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The Cross, the Crescent, and the Dragon

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The gathering of lords and generals sat silently atop a nearby hill, watching the battle finish below.  It was a relatively quick affair, much more time being spent on mustering the men and readying them for battle then the actual combat.  As the enemy fled into the city, the crusaders followed them, and soon flames and smoke could be seen rising above the settlement. Flavio called over an aide after a realization.  It was September- there would definitely be late-season crops in the fields, if not harvested already.

 

“Yes, m’lord?”

 

“I want you to ensure that the fire does not spread to the field or the storehouses.  Sir Fernando from the Iverican company would most likely be your best bet for aid.” The aide saluted, mounted a nearby horse, and rode off.

 

Lord Otto stated out loud to no one in particular, “They’ll almost certainly be able to muster up a force again.”

 

Flavio shrugged.  “It won’t matter. We’ll fight them again.”  The flames and smoke grew more intense as the din of battle shifted to a din of murderous screams.  He continued to face the village, “We’ll need to find a better way to face those horse archers. They’ll prove much more deadly in future conflicts.”  Turning to the group, he finished, “We’ll discuss that once dusk settles. You all are dismissed- see to it that your men set up camp.”

 

The assembly of lords and generals walked off while Flavio remained.  

 

*              *               *

 

The rhythmic din of feet marching along a dirt road mingled with the sounds of chatter and metal clanging.  Lord Theobald, atop his horse, trotted alongside his men. The crusader army had been traveling southwest along the main highway, with several detachments splitting up and sweeping the coast while the larger army continued its slow march southwest. The forces had now joined up for the crossing of the Tes River.

 

The chatter picked up as the army rounded a bend in the road and summited a large hill.  Straight ahead of them, to the southwest, stood a large and fortified settlement, resting elegantly on the Tes River.  Theobald halted his horse as sat upright, observing the city and surrounding countryside. This would be his army’s first challenge.  And hopefully not its last, he thought.  

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Jianmen, Southeast Yellow Empire

March 13th, Year of Our Lord 1555

 

The spring sun shone brightly as Theobald heard the large explosions of the bombards to his right as he surveyed the troops forming into battle positions on top of a hill.  They had besieged the city of Jianmen several months before. A city and port on the Tes River in the southwest of the Yellow Empire, it was critical for the crusaders to take- not only to defeat the heretics and claim victory for God, but in order to continue the Southern Campaign across the south of the Yellow Empire.  Jianmen, the “Steadfast Gate” as it was translated, held a fitting name.

 

Another volley fired off.  The last month had seen Theobald fully encircle the city and the crusader navy flush out the Tes River and reach the city’s port, fully blockading the city.  Although the crusaders had superior ships compared to the heretics, the river proved to be tight and limited the fighting capacity of the gunpowder ships. Nevertheless, the crusaders would prevail and take the river.  The lords and generals of the Southern Campaign, however, knew that they could not starve out the defenders. The city had food storages that would last for months, the generals had surmised, plenty of time to amass an army to break the siege.  Theobald had then instructed Marcus, Godwin, and Wade to take command of a section of the army and to fully surround the city. Marcus would take his force to the hilly north and serve largely as a diversion, the main attack coming from the flat south led by Theobald himself and the river fleet, where Godwin had snuck his army under cover of darkness.  

 

A third volley from his own bombards fired off shortly before the first volley from the hilly north fired off.  Shortly after that, the artillery pieces from the ships in the river fired off, and the east followed that. The bombardment, another one of many that had occurred in the last few months, strategically targeted sections of the outdated walls, gates, and cannon armaments and towers that dotted the walls.  Several months of cannon fire directed at these targets would finally come to fruition this day as the targets were destroyed. After the artillery had fulfilled that task to the satisfaction of the generals, the gunners turned their fire into the city itself, hoping to cause chaos, destruction, and casualties.  Once the artillery ran out of ammunition, the army finalized preparations before waiting for the final blessing.  

 

The Bishop of Trinity, his cathedral being the site of the calling of the crusade, rode out on a horse in armor.  His left hand held a red square banner with the Virgin Mary and Joseph holding baby Jesus, who held his right hand out, index and middle finger pointed up and thumb going out to the right, ring and pinkie finger tucked into the palm of his hand.  A cross went behind the Holy Family, with the letters “JMJ” above the cross in gold thread. In his right, he carried a crosier made from gold, a symbol of the bishop being a shepherd of his own flock. In a booming voice heard by the entire southern force, he blessed the crusaders, “Men of God, you come to the heretic’s gates to deliver a most worthy victory to the Savior.  Therefore, go forward, and grant God this most holy victory! Deus Vult!” After this, he made a sweeping Sign of the Cross towards the army, the thousands of men cheering and shouting. The formalities over, the men began to march towards the city gates. Theobald, still on top of the hill, already saw in the distance the eastern force engage and messengers begin to hurry towards him with reports.  The battle had begun.

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"Commander Yang, the barbarians have breached the outer gate.They are tens of thousands, and we cannot repel them."

Yang Qiu turned his helmed head to face the sentry. The commander was a Northerner of forty summers, and wore a patchy beard on a round, sincere face. His armor was in the style of the south coast, a coat of mail and small plates worn under a silk jacket and trousers, and his helmet had a boar carved in ivory on the crest.

"I see. Soldier, tell the garrison to prepare to fight to the death. Any man who is wounded will be expected to either fight if he is able or commit suicide if he is unable. In the cellar magazine, there are thirty sealed crates of imperial firebirds; I had kept them here for General Guo, but now I fear he shall never get them. Distribute them among the troops on the interior wall."

"Yes, sir!"

Night fell on Jianmen quickly, and the fighting continued in the city. Civilians ran screaming from every building, and both man and beast lay dead in all the streets of the town. The crusaders were hacking their way through barricades of carts, barrels, and bodies, thrown up by what remained of the retreating garrison. Yang Qiu watched from the wall.

"Soldiers! Prepare the firebirds!"

The harrowed troops rushed to their positions. Nearly to a man, they were covered in soot and blood; their own and others'. They pulled their last resort from slim wooden crates lined with straw: the firebird rockets of the Xida Imperial Arsenal. They devices were about one and a half meters long, 16 centimeters in diameter, and constructed of a long bamboo tube filled with gunpowder and an outer layer of metal fragments coated in tar, intended to serve as both shrapnel and incendiary. The tube was guided by two large silk wings along the length and a genuine feather tail in the rear; the entire assembly was decorated with motifs of phoenixes and fire. The firebirds were propped up against the parapet, crusader bullets and arrows whistling all around. Yang Qiu raised his sword, silhouetted against the red, smoky sky.

"Prepare!...Fire!"

Three hundred rocket tubes sprang from the inner wall of Jianmen almost without warning, illuminating the area even across the river. Many fell long or short of their mark, starting yet more fires in the doomed town. But most of the rockets, aided by the delay of the crusader troops, were able to strike their mark and send the besiegers formations into disarray, at least temporarily. Horses screamed and bucked their riders, men were crushed under falling masonry, and a whole company of crusading archers raised in Limonaia were blown to smithereens in front of the Fisherman's Gate. After almost a full minute, the thunderous sound and brilliant flashes subsided for a time. Commander Yang turned to his men once more, picking up a shield.

"Jianmen is lost. Each man must do his duty."

 

Elsewhere...

......."Jianmen is lost. Each man must do his duty. "Jianmen is-"

"Lord Guo? My lord, are you awake?"

Guo Wei pried his eyes open, seeing a familiar face. It was Jing Kao, one of his bodyguards from the Duchy of Baiyu. Jing Kao's particular class were aristocratic poets and literati who also trained in the arts of war to serve their clan, and the Dragon Throne; in fact, not very different from many of the barbarian crusaders, whether he knew it or not. Like all his people, he was tall, slim, and very dark of face. He wore armor of steel, covered by lavishly decorated gold, green enamel and ivory, featuring the insect motif of his clan, the Jing, who wore the mayfly on their sigils and helms. He held a drinking gourd in his hand, offering it to Guo Wei, who took it and drank thirstily.

"You did not wake for three days, my lord. I though you would certainly die. A barbarian mace struck you in the temple and dazed you. I had to grab your reins and ride us both away from the battlefield before we were killed."

The Baiyu spoke a devilish dialect of Huang, very foreign to the ear of most nobility, but Guo Wei understood enough.

"Our army is defeated. Jianmen is lost. We are surely defeated in the south."

"Jianmen, my lord? I don't understand; I have heard no news of Jianmen, how can you know this?

"I dreamt it, and I know it to be true. I awoke just now with the taste of sulphur in my mouth, as if I had been there to see the firebirds fly."

There was silence; a stream burbled gently nearby, and the pair's horses grazed next to the men. Guo Wei saw now that he was laying under a tree in his undertunic and trousers, his silk robe folded under his head as a pillow. His head was bandaged, and throbbing. Jing Kao spoke again.

"You must rest awhile somewhere, my lord. I am sure we can slip away into some mountain manor unnoticed. You may hide there until we can escape to the capital, or the province is liberated."

Guo Wei rose, his head lighter than air.

"No, brave Jing, we must continue the fight against the invaders in the south. How many of our men survived the battle?"

"Perhaps two or three hundred. Not many at all, many of them scattered and probably running for home, hoping not to get swept up by the Northern recruiting columns. All but one of your other Baiyu bodyguards are dead, the artillery has been captured, and the regular infantry for the most part slaughtered in the crush and by the barbarian cavalry. That leaves perhaps a few dozen real troops, and a significant number more who only nominally owe you allegiance. They may agree to fight for you, they may not. You may be duty-bound to execute some of them if they have turned to banditry. It is a senseless proposition, my lord; you should retire from the field and save your life with honor. However."

Jing Kao lifted a painted wooden mask to his face, and fastened it into the hooks of his helmet. It was a man's face, but with a long cranefly's nose and articulated golden eyebrows. The wooden jaw, another piece, was square and narrow, and clacked with every word, a pointed false beard articulating Jing Kao's already sharp features.

"I have sent the other survivor, my cousin Jing Fei, to the home valleys. If he arrives in time, he will bring reinforcements. If he arrives too late, he will bring a funeral shroud. Your horse is ready, Lord Guo. Let us make haste."

 

Edited by Fulgistan
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